When trying to eat a healthier diet, it’s common for people to lump foods into categories that they deem either “good” or “bad.”
That makes it easier to decide what to eat without having to dissect each food individually, ultimately saving time and effort. One such category of foods that has presented itself in recent years is superfoods.
Items in this category are generally described as foods that are rich in such compounds as antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids, and considered beneficial to a person’s health. Thus, if a food provides enough health-related value based on the nutrients it contains, it is declared a superfood. However, figuring out which foods deserve this label isn’t always as easy as it would seem.
That’s why we reached out to some health experts and asked them to share the items that top their list when it comes to superfoods that may not be so super. Here’s what they had to say.
“A lot of people think whole-wheat products are good for them,” says Alex Tauberg, DC, a certified strength and conditioning specialist at Tauberg Chiropractic & Rehabilitation in Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania. “But the reality is that whole-grain products are just a slightly more healthy alternative then regular or bleached grains.” What makes these food sources not as beneficial as one may think?
“Grains in general promote inflammation,” Tauberg says, “which can be terrible for you.” Studies have confirmed this as well. For instance, research published in the journal Nutrients found that the consumption of wheat and cereal grains “can contribute to the manifestation of chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases by increasing intestinal permeability and initiating a pro-inflammatory immune response.”
That’s why Tauberg recommends that people consume as few grains as possible. “While carbohydrates do and should take up a significant portion of your daily calories, those carbohydrates should come from vegetables and fruits,” he says.
Kale didn’t make this list because it’s bad for you, as “Kale is great,” according to Sophia Borghese, a nutritional consultant for All Inclusive Health in New Orleans, adding that “it gives healthy eaters plenty of vitamins, fiber, and bits of protein.” So what’s the problem?
“If you’re on anticoagulant medications, the vitamin K content can be dangerous,” Borghese says. “For these people, it might cause blood thinning.”
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital reports that one cup of cooked kale has roughly 1.05 mg of vitamin K, making it the second-highest vitamin K-containing food there is, surpassed only by collard greens, which have 1.06 mg of vitamin K per cup (when cooked). Yet the Office of Dietary Supplements recommended intake is only 0.12 mg for adult men and 0.09 mg for adult women.
St. Jude’s nutritional guidance stresses that those who are taking blood thinners don’t have to avoid kale and other high-vitamin-K foods. Instead, what’s most important is that the same amount of vitamin K is consumed on a regular basis. This should keep it’s coagulant properties under control.
Other cruciferous vegetables
When you hear about kale and other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts, you think of healthy foods, right? Samm Pryce, NMD, a licensed naturopathic physician with Balanced Integration in Ann Arbor, Michigan, says that overall you would be right because these superfoods “have vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals―all of which mean they convey numerous benefits, such as lowering cancer risk, decreasing oxidative damage, and protecting against cardiovascular disease by lowering inflammation.”
Consequently, benefits such as these lead Pryce’s patients to add these foods to their daily diets, sometimes adding them to their juicing regimens. However, they aren’t the best choices for individuals with low thyroid function―hypothyroidism―because “the thyroid gland needs iodine to function properly and digesting cruciferous veggies, per the latest research, suggests that these foods block the thyroid’s ability to utilize iodine,” Pryce says.
According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, while this can potentially be the case, it usually isn’t an issue unless the cruciferous vegetables are consumed in high quantities, and the individual is iodine deficient from the start. Otherwise, the Institute states that it should be safe to consume the recommended intake of 1.5 to 2.5 cups of of dark-green vegetables―including cruciferous vegetables―per week.
A newer superfood that isn’t necessarily super, according to Pryce, is coconut. “Coconut everything is a new buzz, especially since Starbucks has added it to a new latte,” she says. “It is also considered a superfood and chock full of minerals, which makes it a great vegan alternative to dairy. But it is low in protein and very high in saturated fat.”
That’s why Pryce calls coconut “a walking time bomb” for people who have cardiovascular issues. Though they think they’re being healthier by using coconut oil, this isn’t exactly the case.
Does this mean that any of these “superfoods” are bad? Not at all. It just means that they may not be as valuable to health and wellness as we think or they may not be right for people with certain health conditions or issues. In many cases, the research simply isn’t there to say one way or the other.